Can animal rights issues be viewed in black and white?

As I continued to read the Sun Magazine interview with Peter Singer that I mentioned in my post last week, I found myself again challenged: When it comes to eating animals, are all choices equal? More specifically, is it more acceptable to eat pasture-raised beef than factory farmed? Is it less cruel to eat non-vertebrates like shrimp, who assumedly do not feel pain, than vertebrates? Are these choices valid at all in terms of the animal rights struggle?

For me, these questions fall very close to one we have been discussing in our group lately and one which has been given prominence in the debate between animal rights advocates and animal welfare proponents. Namely, is animal welfare advocacy a help or a hinderance to the overall animal rights struggle? In other words, if we lobby for better conditions for farm animals and encourage the public to buy meat and other animal products produced under these improved conditions, are we giving people permission to use animals for our own purposes? Are we relieving their consciences of guilt and actually encouraging animal use?

The animal rights (abolitionist) groups say yes to these last questions. In their collective opinion, advocacy for better conditions and promotion of so-called cruelty-free animal products are a roadblock on the path to the ultimate goal: the end of speciesism and the abolition of all uses of animals for our human purposes. The welfare groups say that this is an unrealistic (even irrational) goal in the immediate and foreseeable future. According to these organizations and experts, the general public is not ready to give up animal consumption, and going straight to abolition advocacy will simply alienate people and do no good for any animals. They believe the best way to do the most for the most animals is to meet people halfway and try to make the best of a bad situation.

I have struggled with this question myself for many months. On a personal level, I have made my choice and see clearly what actions I want to take. But I am only one person, and my task as an animal rights activist is to affect others as well. And in this, I need (or thought I needed) to be clear on what my opinions and goals are. Today, I am not so sure. To me, both sides have very valid points. And in answer to the question in my title, perhaps these issues cannot be viewed in such black and white terms. Different approaches have to be taken with different people. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that is going to free animals from our exploitation in the near future. But because there is no single solution for all, we need all these groups with all their various opinions acting on the issues in their own individual ways. We can all learn from each other; we can all affect the issue in our own way; and we are all right in following our hearts to the paths on which they lead us.

But enough about my opinions, what do you think about these questions? Does there need to be one baseline approach for animal activism, or is there room in the arena for different opinions? Do these opinions and actions complement or impede each other? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!



5 responses to this post.

  1. This is a lovely post Melissa, and thank you for bringing it up. As animal rights activists, all of us live with the dilemma of whether “humanely slaughtered” animals need to be promoted and those people who prefer such meat need to be encouraged. I completely understand those who feel that eating animals and animal products will not cease immediately and the best thing to be done then is to ensure that the animals are made to undergo as little pain as possible. The problem I see in promoting humane killing methods is that we are still encouraging the notion that animals are our commodities and we own them.
    In total 140 billion animals are slaughtered for meat ever y year. This level of demand can only be met by factory faming. It is impossible to have humane killing methods and still keep up with the ever increasing demand for animal products. As long as the mindsets of people don’t change, no amount of welfare laws will ever hold good.
    I also feel that the welfarist organizations need to re-acess their strategy towards stopping animal exploitation. If you actually research as to why companies like McD or KFC adopted more humane killing methods, you’ll find that these methods were economically more profitable for them. PETA fights for changes that would’ve happened anyway, celebrates it as a victory for the animals, praises these companies on their policies, and people thrive there. They actually help in promoting these companies, thus making eating animals completely normal or even good!
    Here’s a perspective on animal welfare. Child labor is a social issue which is prevalent in many countries. If a small kid, who is made to wash dishes, is asked to wash 50 dishes a day instead of the usual 100, it would indeed be a lot better for the child, but that still cannot validate the institution of child labor. Neither can humane killing methods ever justify the actual killing. When we look at issues such as child labor and human slavery, we cannot and will not accept a compromise. We condemn it, full stop. Speciesism is no different.
    Animal rights is basically just one right, to not use them as our commodities or objects that we own. The only logical thing then is to go vegan. All the resources and money that organizations like PETA have must be used to educate people on Veganism. That is the only way to truly bring about a sustainable change.

  2. Posted by chesterfierce on May 12, 2011 at 19:24

    This is such a relevant post, Melissa and Siddharth.

    Animal Aid in the UK have a great campaign that makes a very strong statement against the whole welfare group strategy of “ethically-reared”/”cruelty-free”/”free-range”/”organic” meat. It throws that argument right where it belongs: the dump!!

    Collie steak for sale at Farmers’ Markets:

    • Posted by Cecilia on May 19, 2011 at 07:25

      Well, that one would be quite a huge success in some Asian countries.

  3. Posted by Cecilia on May 19, 2011 at 08:54

    Great post by Melissa. I have also read a lot about what some organizations and experts say, and what they say about what makes the world work: MONEY. It’s the biggest interest in those companies that produce meat. And that’s the reality we need to remember, when we think about a strategy that would convince authorities make animal rights really exist effectively. I think that it will take a few generations yet, for governments and doctors start to recommend less consumption of meat or recommend a better quality in the meat produced (which could be SOMEHOW possible to happen with the “humane slaughters”). At least they COULD or SHOULD think about it after seeing statistics about this generation’s life span quality, which is full of obese people and other diseases. Not the whole fault is due to meat consumption though, but mostly due to the junk food life style. Many people eat meat in moderate way and vegetables too, and can have a fair healthy life.
    Even though I think that it might take time to make a worldwide change, it doesn’t mean that we just need to give up and not do anything about this issue. It’s great work to start talking to people about how meat in excess is not good, and how actually bad those meat farms work. It will help to spread the word, and people will get alert, little by little of the matter and ask for changes.
    Even those who don’t care about animal rights, and only about quality of the meat that goes to their stomach. Somehow, they would help too. Maybe for many, the “humane slaughter” thing is not good enough, but I would be glad if it would be a start. It’s definitely better than how the situation is now. And it doesn’t mean (in my point of view) that vegans or vegetarians could not support it too, since they would also get support from those who actually like to eat meat and don’t wanna change. It’s sad, but that’s how people are. Some just like it and won’t give up. Some would like to give up, but just can’t. For whatever reasons. But in my opinion, when we deal with people, we need to try to understand them, not do as they do, but try to see a way to make them change seeing things by themselves. Seeing things and making their own options. Animals are not seen as humans yet, unfortunately. For most people or authorities, they are seen as objects. And that reality should change. At least in some matters, I think that animals should get respect, even when slaughtering them. And also about good life conditions before their deaths too. Not all agree with this that I said. As not all care about how animals live or die, as long as their meat is on the plate. Not all even know that animals are raised and killed in such bad conditions. Not all would eat meat anymore after seeing how meat farms work. Not all would like to give up on meat, but would like to see animals having a good life and fair death, as it has been in most cases for many centuries ago. When yes, animals were them “objects” to people, but respected, cause people used to keep in mind that they needed animals to survive, along with other things that nature offered. And we all can think about it. All of us, with our different opinions, cause otherwise, things won’t ever work. I don’t say that if a vegan support the “humane slaughter” idea, that he/she needs to eat meat. Not at all. I think we all need to live according to what we believe, and especially giving none or at least, less harm possible to animals. How can a person who lives in the wild, respect the animal that gives him/her food and we don’t do it anymore?
    I mean, in the case, since the world became industrialized so fast, those meat farms forgot the whole idea of respect to things that the earth has given us for generations. And it’s sad, very sad. Maybe the easiest way is to be vegan for all, and would be nice if it worked for everyone. IF.
    I think we all have our beliefs, and I understand the vegans’ point of view. And meat eaters’ point of view. I have been vegetarian for some months and gave up in one point later. Now I’m trying to use a new strategy to give up on meat at all in future. I hope it works.
    It’s a real complex subject, the meat consumption thing, and it’s full of good and bad things from both sides. It’s good that we can talk to people without losing the notion of reality and not let the passion talks more and we lose our minds.
    Changing a bit the topic, but also speaking of another example of something that has helped to increase the environmental issue: The huge growth of human population. We all know that, since food became easy to achieve and also technology has improved so well, also has increased the growth of population. And with that, also increases the consumption of water and other natural resources. So now, many people believe that the world population should get lower, and it would be a start to not have babies anymore. And then, for those who want to have babies, what can be said to them?
    There are hundreds of topics when we think about saving the environment too. As they are many topics to think about animal rights. I love animals and it’s sad for me to admit that the world’s faith, just as animals’ faith is on people’s hand. But I don’t give up on trying or hoping to see a solution that at least ease parts of the problem. I’m not a perfect person, but I have also been struggling with lots of thoughts concerning this matter and others.
    I won’t be able to change them all by myself, but I hope that a change can come, that will suit the best possible way for everyone. And I hope human kind find a solution together. Not all will agree, but I hope it could be done. That might be a utopia as just as world becoming totally vegan might be, but it’s really good to talk to people about things like that. The information about such issues are easy for everyone to find. And it’s important to read what everyone says, no matter if we agree or not. And then we can see what reality is the one that suits each of us. 🙂 We just all need to discuss about it. Small changes could be done at first, so that in future, great achievements would be accomplished.

    • Posted by Cecilia on May 22, 2011 at 14:43

      Oops. “Fate” instead of “Faith”. My english still needs improvements. 😀

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: